Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — China stepped up its attacks on the Trump administration on Monday over billions of dollars worth of threatened tariffs, saying Washington was to blame for trade frictions and that it was impossible to negotiate under "current circumstances".

The comments come after US President Donald Trump on Sunday predicted China would take down its trade barriers, and expressed optimism that both sides could resolve the issue through talks.

Chinese state researchers and media talked down the likely effect of US trade measures on the world’s second-largest economy and described the Trump administration’s posturing on trade as the product of an "anxiety disorder".

"Under the current circumstances, both sides even more cannot have talks on these issues," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

"The US with one hand wields the threat of sanctions and at the same time says they are willing to talk. I’m not sure who the US is putting on this act for," he said.

The trade frictions were "entirely at the provocation of the US", Geng added.

Boao Forum for Asia

Beijing did not want to fight a trade war but was not afraid of one, Qian Keming, the vice-minister of commerce, said at the Boao Forum for Asia in the southern province of Hainan.

The focus this week will be on the forum, with both President Xi Jinping and IMF MD Christine Lagarde delivering speeches on Tuesday.

The US last week threatened China with tariffs on $50bn in Chinese goods to force Beijing to tackle what Washington says is deeply entrenched theft of US intellectual property and forced technology transfers.

Beijing claims Washington is spurring global protectionism, though China’s trading partners have complained for years that it abuses World Trade Organisation rules and practices unfair industrial policies that lock foreign companies out of crucial sectors with the intention of creating domestic champions.

On Monday morning in Washington, Trump tweeted that China puts 25% tariffs on cars imported from the US, while cars it imports from China face 2.5% duties. "Does that sound like free or fair trade. No, it sounds like STUPID TRADE," Trump said in his post.

Great Wall of denial

"China’s reaction to Mr Trump’s legitimate defence of the American homeland has been a Great Wall of denial despite incontrovertible evidence of Beijing’s illicit and protectionist behaviours," White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said in a commentary in the Financial Times on Monday.

"Nothing less than the US’s economic future is at risk from China’s assault on American technology and [intellectual property] and its mercantilist bid to capture emerging high-tech industries," he said.

Chinese officials deny such charges and responded within hours of Trump’s announcement of tariffs with their own proposed commensurate duties. The move prompted Trump to threaten tariffs on an additional $100bn in Chinese goods.

None of the latest measures have yet gone into effect, offering some hope for compromise and a watering down of the proposals, even as both sides’ rhetoric grows more strident.

China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, said in an interview in China’s Securities Daily newspaper that the US should "adopt a more responsible attitude" on trade or it would harm itself with its own policies.

Populist tilt

"Some people in the US are still accustomed to being the world leader and haven’t adapted to the change in the global situation," Cui said.

The Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, described US trade policies as a populist tilt by Trump ahead of the US mid-term elections but said that the steps would ultimately end up hurting US consumers through higher prices.

"In the world’s perception, the US is overshadowed by an anxiety disorder and is very keen to show its anxiety," the paper said.

A researcher with China’s state planning agency said there would be little affect on China’s economy from the dispute because its vast domestic market could compensate for any external impact.

Even with the US tariffs, China could still reach its 2018 GDP growth target of about 6.5% and the effect on employment would be limited, Wang Changlin, a researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission, wrote on the commission’s official microblog account.

Fan Gang, an influential economist and adviser to China’s central bank, on Sunday flagged the possibility of a US trade war as the US economy faces pressure from China’s rapid development.